For everyone that has wanted to see a “final four” between Miami Northwestern, Miami Central, Miami Carol City and Miami Norland, it looks like you’re a week away from seeing it happen.
But keeping the focus on this week, there are some great games that were facilitated by a playoff system that succeeded in getting rid of the losing-record playoff teams and created some matchups they normally wouldn’t have seen this early in the playoffs.
It starts Thursday when two of Dade’s most improved teams with matching 8-1 records - Miami High and Palmetto - clash at Tropical Park.
That game, along with South Dade’s clash with North Miami at Traz, kick off what should be a very evenly-matched battle to see who represents the southern half of Class 8A.
TOP 20 RANKINGS
1. American Heritage (8-0) vs. Merritt Island (6-3), 7:30, Friday, Heritage.
Andre C. Fernandez’s pick: Heritage 33, Merritt Island 7. The winning streak hits 23 in a row for the Patriots before a familiar challenger (likely Bishop Moore) visits Plantation next week.
2. Northwestern (7-2) vs. Matanzas (6-4), 7:30, Friday, Traz.
Andre’s pick: Northwestern 41, Matanzas 7. The Bulls set up a showdown with Central in the second round with ease.
3. Central (8-2) at Palm Bay Heritage (7-3), 7:30, Friday.
Andre’s pick: Central 37, Heritage 7. Rockets know this stop. It’s one they’ve made before on the road to a state championship.
4. Cardinal Gibbons (8-1) at Orlando Jones (9-1), 7:30, Friday.
Andre’s pick: Cardinal Gibbons 37, Jones 34. This should be one of the best first-round games statewide.
5. Miramar (8-1) vs. Lake Worth Park Vista (8-2), 7:30, Friday, Miramar.
Andre’s pick: Miramar 27, Park Vista 6. Patriots should have much of a letdown after huge win over St. Thomas.
6. St. Thomas Aquinas (7-2) vs. South Miami (6-3), 7:30, Friday, Aquinas.
Andre’s pick: Aquinas 42, South Miami 7. Good bounce back year for the Cobras, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2011, but Aquinas cruises.
7. Deerfield Beach (8-2) vs. 19. Western (8-2), 7:30, Friday, Deerfield Beach.
Andre’s pick: Deerfield Beach 21, Western 10. The Bucks’ defense has to slow down one of Broward’s top offenses, but should be up to the challenge.
8. Chaminade (7-2) vs. Delray American Heritage (5-4), 3, Friday, Chaminade.
Andre’s pick: Chaminade 38, American Heritage 21. Run Shivers, run. It’s a simple formula for the Lions, who should move closer to state.
9. Carol City (6-3) at Dillard (6-4), 7:30, Friday.
Andre’s pick: Carol City 35, Dillard 7. Chiefs’ repeat bid begins again with a road win at Dillard.
10. Norland (6-3) at Daytona Beach Mainland (6-4), 7:30, Friday.
Andre’s pick: Norland 30, Mainland 13. The Vikings scheduled those early road games to be ready for this challenge.
11. Columbus (8-1) vs. Homestead (6-3), 5, Friday, Columbus.
Andre’s pick: Columbus 28, Homestead 8. The Explorers have home field throughout their potential path to state. They clear the first hurdle.
12. Miami High (8-1) vs. 13. Palmetto (8-1), 7, Thursday, Tropical.
Andre’s pick: Palmetto 20, Miami High 19. Here’s where we find out which is the better turnaround story among two of South Florida’s most improved teams.
14. South Dade (8-1) vs. North Miami (6-3), 7, Thursday, Traz.
Andre’s pick: South Dade 20, North Miami 6. Bucs have finished the season strong after their lone setback to Palmetto.
15. Southridge (5-3) at Belen Jesuit (6-3), 1, Friday.
Andre’s pick: Southridge 12, Belen 7. Ridge needs its defense to dominate to avoid an upset in this one.
16. Plantation (9-1) at Delray Beach Atlantic (9-1), 7:30, Friday.
Andre’s pick: Plantation 15, Atlantic 14. Colonels have historically been a good first-round team under coach Steve Davis, but this one won’t be easy.
17. University School (7-1) vs. Glades Central (6-3), 7:30, Fri., University.
Andre’s pick: University 17, Glades Central 14. It’s hard to beat a team twice in a season but the Sharks do and pick up first playoff win in four years.
18. Monsignor Pace (7-1) vs. Key West (7-1), 7:30, Friday, Pace.
Andre’s pick: Monsignor Pace 28, Key West 21. The Spartans’ old-school physical play on both sides of the ball carries them to their first playoff win since 2010.
20. Champagnat (5-2) vs. Naples St. John Neumann (9-0), 7, Thursday, Milander.
Andre’s pick: Champagnat 24, St. John Neumann 6. The march back to Orlando begins for the Lions.
MORE PLAYOFF GAMES
Nova (8-1) at Doral (8-2), 7, Friday.
Andre’s pick: Doral 27, Nova 14. Firebirds take another big step in program’s growth with their first playoff win.
Mater Academy (6-4) at Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer (8-2), 7:30, Friday.
Andre’s pick: Dwyer 28, Mater 9. Tough to see the Lions overcoming this road obstacle.
Forest Hill (9-1) vs. West Broward (7-2) at Flanagan, 7:30, Friday.
Andre’s pick: West Broward 27, Forest Hill 20. Bobcats carry over momentum from winning first district title by winning their first playoff game.
Everglades Prep (5-4) at Palm Beach Benjamin (7-2), 7:30, Friday.
Andre’s pick: Benjamin 28, Everglades Prep 14. The Panthers’ playoff debut likely doesn’t result in a win, but gives them something to build upon.
Wednesday – Broward: McArthur at Everglades, 7; Everglades 10-7; Hollywood Hills vs. Monarch (Coconut Creek), 7; Monarch 30-14.
Thursday – Broward: Coral Glades at Pompano Beach, 7; Coral Glades 17-7; Coral Springs vs. Coral Springs Charter (Coral Glades), 7; Coral Springs 35-14; Cardinal Newman at Archbishop McCarthy, 7; McCarthy 28-24.
Dade - Last week: 22-1; Season: 194-38; Broward – Last week: 18-5; Season: 176-40.